First, a few words on Welcome to Marwen, which I have not seen and do not intend to. When trailers began to appear months ago, touting it as the most original movie of the year (I'm paraphrasing), I was decidedly non-plussed. And so when the forecasts came in estimating a 50-60 million dollar box office loss for the thing, I took it as heartening news. Not that I wish any misfortune befall Robert Zemeckis — my relationship to his work might best be described as complicated — but on balance I admire him as a creative, hard-working commercial artist. And I certainly wouldn't want the movie's failure to negatively impact the careers of perennial favorites like Janelle Monáe, Leslie Mann or even Steve Carell (who I tend to like in spite of his frequently baffling role selections). However, I admire the failure of Welcome to Marwen because it is an affront to my sensibilities. See, the movie is based on true events. Furthermore, those events are painstakingly, heartbreakingly described in a feature-length documentary called Marwencol (2010) by director Jeff Malmberg, who also edited this year's Won't You Be My Neighbor? It seems demeaning and diminishing to the significant accomplishments of that movie, as well as to those of Mark Hogancamp, whose story it tells, to rehash it as an addle-pated cartoon hybrid, with Carell apparently unable to decide whether he's acting in a comedy or a drama (again, I've gleaned this only from the trailer, to be fair). Marwencol is very much worth seeking out and hopefully the failure of Welcome to Marwen will bring it some more well-deserved attention. And maybe somebody in charge of green-lighting things will learn a lesson, though for this I have less hope.
VICE. I looked forward to this for many months and more pointedly in last week's column, as potentially one of the best and most important movies of the year; it does not disappoint. That being said, Adam McKay's latest also continually reminds us of the odious, suppurating nature of contemporary American politics so, despite its brisk pacing and occasionally whimsical narrative style, it is certainly not for the faint of heart.
Vice offers a comprehensive, sometimes frustratingly balanced portrait of former Vice President Dick Cheney from the vomitory flameouts of his college days, through his multiple-DUI tenure as a Wyoming lineman and on to his entry into the halls of power, wherein he found a calling and the eventual catastrophic fulfillment of his hideous inmost impulses.
As in The Big Short (2015), McKay deploys many of the sharper instruments in his comic toolkit to draw us into a thoughtful, innovative exegesis on contemporary American issues. The movie, though occasionally shot to look like horror, is edited with much of the bounce of his more straight-ahead comedies (Step Brothers, 2008, for one). And the performances, led by an almost unrecognizable Christian Bale, work a subtle line between impersonation and parody. All this in service of a story so grotesque, so troubling in its actuality that most of us would rather it were a work of fiction. But, as seems to be more and more frequently the case, reality is much stranger and far more troubling than fiction. Cheney used his mulish determination, venality, access and, admittedly, his formidable cunning to destabilize American politics at the highest level. He acted in the shadows to centralize power in the executive branch and, from his shadowy lair therein, orchestrated power grabs, international conflicts, blatant nepotism and the wholesale purchase of American democracy through dirty back-channel whoring. He's the worst. But he is also a real person and therein lies perhaps the most frustrating and significant element of Vice. Bale's Cheney is real, full-blooded and multi-faceted; he's the personification of a specific type of American evil but he also loves his wife and kids. To misquote someone wiser than I, no villain thinks he is a villain. Truer words were never spoken concerning the dastardly "protagonist" of this piece.
Some will take issue with some of the stylistic turns here but to me it plays a complete and complex synthesis of style and information. There are sour notes within it but not a one of them out of place. R. 132M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
BIRD BOX. There is much ado about this one, it having streamed to over 45 million users already. It may mark a major transitional moment for Netflix. Despite its strengths, I suspect that may be its only triumph.
The narrative shuttles between the onset of a global crisis (the arrival of creatures, the mere sight of which drives people to suicide, in their droves) and five years into the future created by it. Mallory Hayes (Sandra Bullock), pregnant in one thread, caring for two small children in the other, finds shelter with a small group of survivors that is eventually winnowed away until she and the children make their way blindfolded down a cold and winding river (filmed in Del Norte County, no less) toward hoped-for safety.
It's a clever premise (adapted by Eric Heisserer from the novel by Josh Malerman) and that in itself creates a problem, in that this is a rare dystopian future story neither about nor targeted at young adults. It's a bleak, occasionally grisly take on the genre but it never quite marries tone with narrative. It has its effective moments and the performances are strong across the board but it seems to reach for something it can't quite get. R. 124M. NETFLIX.
— John J. Bennett
*Due to the holiday, updated listings for Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna were not available at press time. See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
BURNING. Steven Yeun plays a mysterious, wealthy firebug who wanders into the lives of a Seoul delivery driver (Ah-in Yoo) and his old classmate (Jong-seo Jun). NR. 148M. MINIPLEX.
ESCAPE ROOM. A handful of strangers use their wits to make it out of a deadly series of high-tech immersive puzzles. Starring Taylor Russell and Deborah Ann Woll. PG13. 100M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
SHOPLIFTERS. A Japanese family getting by on five-finger discounts takes in a little girl. Their stealing and other family secrets come under scrutiny when she's found. Starring Lily Franky and Sakura Andô. R. MINOR.
AQUAMAN. James Wan directs the butched-up ocean superhero's (Jason Momoa) solo feature with Amber Heard and an army of CG sea creatures. PG13. 143M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
BUMBLEBEE. Transformers spinoff starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena. PG13. 113M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
DR. SEUSS' THE GRINCH. Benedict Cumberbatch voices the green menace (which is going to give me all kinds of issues) in this latest animated trip to Whoville. PG. 90M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
GREEN BOOK. The set-up of a racist white man driving a black concert pianist around the South in the '60s is cringeworthy but Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali give immersive, deeply-felt performances in director Peter Farrelly's surprisingly restrained film. PG13. 130M. BROADWAY, MINOR.
HOLMES AND WATSON. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly do their thing in tweed. PG13. 91M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS. The original super nanny (Emily Blunt) takes on the children of her former charges. With Lin-Manuel Miranda and a freakishly spry Dick Van Dyke. PG. 130M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS. Enough queenly rivalry to make RuPaul gasp in Josie Rourke's historical drama starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. R. 124M. BROADWAY.
MORTAL ENGINES. Hera Hilmar and Hugo Weaving star in Peter Jackson's steampunk adventure with roving cities battling it out in a post-apocalyptic landscape. PG13. 128M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE MULE. Clint Eastwood's storytelling is as controlled as his performance as an aging, failed father smuggling drugs for a cartel as the DEA closes in. With Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña. R. 116M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET. More video game hijinks voiced by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman. PG. 112M. BROADWAY.
SECOND ACT. Jennifer Lopez accidentally catfishes her way into a high-powered job. With Leah Remini and Vanessa Hudgens. PG13. 103M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. Inter-dimensional spider heroes team up in an animated adventure. Starring Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson and Hailee Steinfeld. PG. 117M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
WELCOME TO MARWEN. A violent assault sends an artist (Steve Carell) into a therapeutic, woman-powered fantasy world. With Janelle Monáe and Leslie Mann. PG13. 116M. BROADWAY.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill